The new year is just around the corner. It is a time when people pledge new resolutions. Lofty goals of self-improvement are set and like so many of us, they have been forgotten by March. I found a way that helped me to stay on the goal path until the achievement has been made. Your first resolution should be to work on your “self”.
Before you can work on your goals and strategies, you must lay the foundation for success through self-discipline. The first discipline that you must commit to is to cultivate your “self” first. Chapter 26, Sovereignty.
I picked up this invaluable insight while listening to Derik Lin, and I have found it to be one of the most important first strategies to cultivate. Goals without willpower and self-discipline are just good intentions. The chances of not finishing are much higher without them. You know the old proverb about the road to hell as being paved with good intentions.
What does “work on the self first” mean? It means to learn to control the wild ego part of the spirit that is the epitome of self-satisfaction and desire. The discipline in maintaining full management and control over emotions, desire, and distraction so that you can avoid the pitfalls and temptations that lead to failure.
Ego-goals are well intended but almost always fail. Every January, many people state a new resolution to accomplish a personal goal. Weight loss is a very common one, and we all know that the failure rate is very high. We lose our momentum towards the weight loss goal when we:
Lose the will to continue
become distracted (forget or don’t pay attention to what we are doing)
Lie to ourselves
set the goal for the wrong reasons
and most importantly, when we lose our battle with desire
Only if you are mindful of your emotions, feelings, choices, and actions can you wisely navigate life to accomplish long-term goals. Goal achievement lies somewhere in the future. The steps you take to reach that point in your destiny are made right here and right now. That moment of choice is the point whether you remain true to your higher self or fail at self-discipline. You must have virtuous clarity in picking your strategies and goals otherwise you will serving the ego’s path of desire. How to work on the self begins with meditation and mindfulness. A good teacher can help you begin to be aware of the ego’s effect on your choices and actions through mindfulness. Being aware of your intentions and choices are mandatory to have the willpower and discipline to not make those working choices. Awake, aware and in touch with your higher wisdom, set you goal and finish what you start one step at a time.
“A journey of a thousand miles
begins beneath the feet.”
Verse 10, Chapter 64, Tao Te Ching, (Lao Tzu)
These are excerpts from the book. For this and more Tao wisdom please consider getting a copy here:
Sovereignty, The Tao Principle of Self-Discipline, available on
Clarity is the foundation for sovereignty. Seeking truth is something we do many times a day. Our beliefs are something we choose and can change. Truth is often a subjective matter of perspective. Perspective is elastic and constantly changing. Often, the illusion of truth tricks us. Two people will often view the same circumstance with different perspectives because of their different experiences in life. From these different experiences and perspectives arise different truths. Since truth is subjective and not absolute you can realize that your truth may not be the same as someone else’s. Seeing the perspective from someone else’s point of view is the beginning of empathy. Empathy leads to compassion.
What do you see in the drawing above? Do you see two people talking or a vase?
Hopefully, you can see both. Notice how the mind can switch perspective and meaning, back and forth. This simple optical illusion shows how perception is subjective. If you were seeking the truth, how would you know which is more truthful?
Sometimes life experiences are complex, and sometimes they are straightforward. The ego, which is a part of the physical mind-perspective is often dominant. So, emotion and desire influence perspective. The spiritual mind, the true self, can realize many perspectives and arrive at a more informed decision.
Mindfulness has been defined as paying attention to the mind in a non-judgmental way with intention and purpose. As you can see there are two parts involved. These are paying attention part and how you avoid impulsive reactions[ avoid value judgment] to what you observe. This opens the possibility for clarity or seeing things as they are without being subjugated by the influence of the emotional ego. When you are free of the reactive ego it becomes possible to discern more than one perspective. Through the lens of altruism and virtue, you can gain the insights of the various perspectives. With clarity, you will make the better choice through right thinking and right action.
Mindfulness and detached observation can open the way to consider reality from the perspectives of empathy, compassion, humility, courage, patience, and simplicity just to name a few. The gift of these insights will serve you well when making your choice of what the right action might be. As we all know, karma will create destiny from what is created in that moment of choice. Simplified, it is just cause and effect. For a deeper study of perspective, please see chapter 7, A Matter of Perspective, from the book.
Both the Kindle digital edition and paperback can be purchased here:
I have had many conversations with people about how to cultivate self-discipline. Self-discipline is exercised in a moment of choice. Lack of self-discipline is the ego always following the desire of the moment. Alternatively, sometimes a loss of discipline happens when raw emotion overwhelms us. Fear and anger can drive us to take self-destructive actions. In the critical moment of choice, you will be faced with whether you will give in to it or not.
Excerpt from Chapter 27, Sovereignty – The Tao Principle of Self-Management
“The ultimate purpose of the Tao Te Ching is to provide us with wisdom and insights that we can apply to life. If we cannot do that then it doesn’t matter how well we understand the passage. The true Tao must be lived.”Derek Lin1
I believe that there are two parts to cultivating wisdom. They are experience and knowledge. Of the two, experience is the key ingredient and knowledge is a by-product. Society tends to promote the opposite of this path which is striving for knowledge with little regard for wisdom. The pursuit of knowledge is something the ego is fond of when the motivation is vanity, greed, or to manipulate.
The distinction is that learning and training to build knowledge is sound when it is intended as a foundation to build experience. Later, when you have practiced what you learned from real life experiences, your wisdom will be true. The wisdom of the Tao follows the same process. You are to study the Tao lessons and gain experience through use in everyday life. Over time, you become conditioned to be guided by what you have learned through the teachings and your experiences.
Wisdom is found in both failure and success. One teaches you what leads to failure and one teaches you what leads to success. Over time, your experiences become the true wisdom.
The other point to know is that the gained experience must be applied. Wisdom has no value if you do not listen to it and use it. This may sound mundane, but it happens every time your ego overrides your wisdom. It is the reason that smart people make stupid mistakes.
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” Jalaluddin Rumi
Learning the sovereign ability to rule over the ego is the purpose of this book. In that important moment of choice, you can be aware of the many options available. The voice of the ego will often be the loudest. Sovereignty is accessing your wisdom-mind whose intelligence is learned from both knowledge and experience. At that moment, you can override the emotional ego and make a wise choice.
Again, meditation and mindfulness practice will provide the presence of mind and awareness to make a wise choice. Without this skill, your mind will be captivated by the ego influence and the emotions that go with it. Emotions, mood, and desire can be the cause of the obvious mistake.
Tao cultivators can remain calmly detached from these negative factors so that the wisdom-mind can prevail.
Wisdom is one of the power virtues of Sovereignty. And remember what Lao Tzu stated in chapter 59; verses 5-9:
“Accumulating virtues means that there is nothing one cannot overcome
When there is nothing that one cannot overcome
One’s limits are unknown
The limitations being unknown, one can possess sovereignty
With this mother principle of power, one can be everlasting”
1Excerpt from Tao Te Ching – Annotated and Explained. Written by Derek Line, published by Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, VT Published 2009.
 Paraphrased from various translation. These may not be completely accurate.
Why is this so important? Mindfulness and meditation are necessary to take charge of your destiny. Destiny is the result of choices you make each moment of each day. Sovereignty is the ability to take charge of your destiny and rule over the ego along with its influences over the mind and emotions. Therefore, to transform your life into one of joy and success, you must cultivate the ability to practice mindfulness and be the Sovereign. Excerpt from Chapter 4
I opened a fortune cookie the other day. The fortune inside said “you can hear a lot just by listening”
A long time ago I heard a story about listening. The story goes that during his presidency, Franklin Roosevelt noted that few people were paying attention to what he said. To see how true it was, he decided to test his theory out during a white house gathering. As he greeted each person, he would say”I murdered my grandmother this morning.” Not hearing what he said most people just smiled, nodded and gave a courteous response such as “how nice” and “good for you”. Finally, he got a response when the Bolivian Ambassador responded with “Well she must have deserved it”.
To Listen; is to be present and give one’s attention to perception1
Communication Lets begin with the obvious.When we talk, we are not listening. Even when someone else is talking, we may not be listening.Even if you are hearing you may not be listening. On a deeper level, the listening is done with the mind, and hopefully, consciousness paying attention. You are looking at someone while they are telling something they feel is hugely compelling, only your mind is buried deep within your mind stream2. When something wakes you up and you pay attention outward, you realized that you haven’t heard a word of what was said because your attention was somewhere “upstream”.
Listening goes deeper than that. This chapter is about cultivating the skill to pay attention to what you hear. Or deeper yet, it is to pay attention to what you perceive3. It’s not just sound wave in the form of another person’s voice. It is “hearing” what the consciousness behind the words is conveying to you.
Intuition. Listening is a complement of Intuition. Deep listening leads to intuition. When you listen, you perceive. What you perceive, you can observe. The product of what you is what you hear. That is unless your attention is deeply in mindstreaming.
The anecdote to this is to be present and mindful. Being able to stay focused on hearing, listening and experiencing what you perceive is transforming.
Being able to stay focused and to listen requires not thinking at the same time. Recall what was discussed in the chapter on emptiness about it having functionality. Emptiness gives function to listening. Being empty in order to receive.The mind is still so it can observe. You cannot listen while you are thinking.
Contrary to how this may sound, this is the highest form of waking consciousness. Note the following words that are listed at the beginning of this chapter.
The function of the ear ends with hearing,
that of the mind, with symbols or ideas.
But the spirit is an emptiness ready to receive all things.
Excerpt from the Chuang Tzu Chapter 4
As I have mentioned many times in this and other books, the ability to wake up from mindstream and pay attention, hold focus is a spiritual ability cultivated through meditation. It is applied over and over in your waking life through continuously becoming mindful.
You are listening. Your mind drifts. Your consciousness realizes that your focus drifted and you refocus back to observing/listening (perceive/to pay attention). Listening with focused attention is a skill. When you practice it the same person enough, they will tell you that you are a good listener. The people in your life will regard you more favorably. They will also notice if you miss a lot because your mind is busy while they are talking to you. When you present some deep nuance that only you understand, then they will tell you that you ”think too much”.
So this focused attention is to be applied often but in a balanced way. The is a certain harmony that you must achieve where you observe/listen to each moment along with the need to think about what you are doing. It is best if you approach this with moderation. Just practice gently, giving yourself the rest of your life to cultivate it.
While you are reading this, notice how the “voice” will comment. Or notice how your mind will drift off when you perceive some interesting concept. Your eyes and mind will still be processing the material, yet the attention off in mindstream. Then you wake up and have to go back and reread the previous sentence. Sometimes the content can be so complex that it can provoke thinking, and you have to reread over a of bunch times. So stop right here. Raise your head up and think about this.
Spirit to spirit. If you did it, and now you are back. You went from listening to distraction, and now you are back listening. Interestingly, the information in my mind right now is taking a quantum leap and traveling through time and space. It is being perceived by your consciousness in some future date and in some other location. From my spirit essence to yours in the now continuum. Each spirit and mind still yet connected. Perhaps listening is a quantum event. This is the power of being present in the “now”. Such is the power of listening.
The final point is this; when you are present and still (out of mindstream), you are in the Tao. This is the Tao connection. When you listening and at one with the Tao, you are in the highest state of being. Your potential (what you are capable of) becomes unlimited when unified with the Tao. It is easier said than done. Yet you can transform your life with even the smallest connection. You connect every time you become still and listen. Listen with constancy4
The sovereign cultivates the ability of returning to the Tao and listening. With a bit of work, you can gain the ability listen to your own thoughts with a sense of detachment. Within your true nature is wisdom. Being able to remove your attention from ego mindstreaming and know your wisdom is a very effective skill. Work at it. Become a good listener.
1This definition was a composite from several sources.
2Mind stream, or mindstreaming is an ancient spiritual concept defined as the “moment to moment continuum. The focus of your consciousness is often deeply concentrated in thought. A type of ongoing distraction creating a loss of presence.
3to perceive is the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses. Or a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression
4See the Chapter on “constancy”. – returning to one’s true nature
Chapter 32 (The Dixie Taoist Handbook – How To Find Your True Path)
Adopt A Child’s Sense of Wonder
(Authors Note: This is one of my favorite chapters. This bit of Tao wisdom is very important. I hope you can receive it with an open heart and let your spirit align with it.
The Virtue: Innocence, non judgment and awe. Its Application: Remember how to feel joy and excitement by adopting a child’s sense of wonder. Before you became conditioned by so much life experience, as a child everything was new, fresh and possible. Children live in a now universe, they reside in the present. In this now you can choose to allow to let go of pessimism and boredom. You can remember to be in touch with the child within you and return to the Tao.
Tao Te Ching Chapter 20 (excerpt)
“like an infant not yet smile”
Tao Te Ching Chapter 28 (excerpt)
“Know the masculine, hold to the feminine
Be the watercourse of the world
Being the watercourse of the world
The eternal virtue does not depart
Return to the state of the infant”
Can you remember your childhood before life’s many experiences created the “me” that you are now?
Try this exercise. Get a picture of you when you were a child. If possible find a picture where you looked happy and if you can remember that period of your life. See if you can remember what it ws like to be a spontaneously happy child. Notice the “me” of then and compare with the “me” in this now. Life experience has a way of tainting our view of the world in many ways. As ego develops, so does the dark side of coping to life’s problems. For many us, years of dealing life’s problems causes us to forget how joy and happiness can be simple and arise spontaneously. Sometimes you can even suppress a rising sense of joy and wonder with a darker view of pessimism and skepticism. The opportunity for wonder is constant in your world but you can become conditioned with feelings of; skepticism, doubt, distrust, mistrust, suspicion and disbelief. Mindfulness practice can help you become aware of these feelings as they arise. Insight meditation can help you get to the root of these feelings. When you can discern the memory or memories that effect your perspective of this moment, you transcend it and create the space for spontaneous joy to come forth.
There is so much you can learn so much from children. There is treasure buried in your own memory. The treasure is how to play and have fun. So many of adults are so busy seeking the sense of joy and wonder in all the wrong places that you may not be able to see how simple it can be.
Returning to a innocent child like view of creation (reality) is cultivating a sense of awareness that is pure. Children enter the physical domain still connected with spirit and aligned with nature. As they grow older, they learn to be distracted and separate from source. But it does not have to be this way. To attain the Tao, you must return to the connection with spirit.
As you grow older and begin to experience life’s challenges, you also begin to cope with the stress . As your ego assumes control, your connection to spirit erodes away. The more you resist life, the more stress you feel. You settle into adulthood coping with a life filled with problems. The coping is the ego way of trying to escape life and its problems.
Our culture has become a collective of individuals addicted to entertainment. We have become addicted to television programming. The worst aspect is that we how over 60 years of cultivating distraction. Today, millions of children will have their natural joy of play superseded by the practice of distraction. Rather than being outside in the world, doing what children do best, learning and interacting through play, they will be sitting in front of a television screen having all sorts of content downloaded. There some There are psychologists who feel that long term watching of television creates a neural network for a distracted state of consciousness. Now this is just my opinion, but I believe that children who play a lot away from television develop a different ability of awareness than those who spend so many hours watching TV. By the time they are grown, they are programmed to seek distraction and are literally addicted to this mind state. So now our culture has 3 or 4 generations of this type of consciousness construct. I cannot help but wonder how we, as a species is evolving.
I used to travel in Mexico where I visited some poor areas that had little or no Television to speak of . I noticed how the children and the people were so connected to nature and the land. They seemed happier than my home environment, and even though they seemed poor, their lives were rich with community and just being alive.
Back here in the United States, our culture is shaped by elements something called “reality TV”. Our definition of happiness is being defined by sitcoms and commercial ads. If your real life outside of TV land does not measure up to the paradigm you are programmed with on TV, then you begin striving to get there. This is a cultivated ego state that just leads to a life of problems.
Your ego can dominate your view so that sensation seeking or distraction become all that you can know. This striving can become your purpose in life. And in this, the beauty wonder and awe of the natural world can become lost to us. The wisdom of the Tao encourages us to remember and adopt a child like sense of wonder at what is present. Being present is what children do.
As a Tao cultivator you can realizes the majesty of life and appreciates your world and the universe where life can be and should be experienced. As a Tao cultivator you are aware of your place in nature. As a spiritual beings you can be self aware of this physical experience. You as a spiritual being must awaken to experience and be appreciative of your form in a universe of forms. You are gifted with senses to appreciate this existence of form. Yet how often are you so distracted that you have lost your connection and oneness with them in distraction. The reawakening is when you first remember the sense perceived universe, and then enlightenment occurs when you realize that you are an integral part of it. “It” is the Tao. When you realize this, your spontaneous childlike sense of wonder will return.
This is something so basic and simple that it begins with just taking a moment be aware that you are alive. You can just stop and be present. You can just …be. After all you are a human-being. Yet when you become obsessed with being distracted, you are no longer aware of being … and being alive.
You must return to a path of simplicity. Simplicity is a path of that is uncluttered with coping elements. When you can become empty of striving for egoic values, you can access the Tao of infinite possibility.
As in all things, the Tao cultivator establishes balance. This is especially important in the basic of life experience. All creatures are involved with doing. Non sentient creatures stay busy supporting their existence, and who knows how much awareness and sentience they may have. Yet as a human “being” you have the ability to be self aware and sentient. Yet you may be allowing this state of consciousness to be out of balance. Distraction is when the mind is lost to something where you are not aware of being and being alive. Sometimes this is necessary as you focus on something you need to do. Yet you must not become so distracted that you remain disconnected to the world and your life experience. This moment by moment experience is where children excel at being full of wonder and joy.
The self aware Tao cultivator brings balance to the world of being and doing. In self awareness you can return and become at one with the universe and appreciate it through an innocent sense of wonder. A child’s sense of wonder. Children who have not yet learned to be disconnected from life, whose ego has not yet learned to be cynical and pessimistic can see everything as new and wondrous. Even though you grow older and accumulate experience, you do not have to lose touch with the childlike sense of wonder. Wisdom is learning from experience. You can treat your past experience as important for wisdom and remember the feeling of wonder you once felt with life. I encourage you to keep this as part of your wisdom. In this way life does not become mundane and boring. Each moment is not ordinary, it is special. When you adopt a child’s sense of wonder, there are no ordinary moments. Once again joy can be found in the simple view of a universe that is always new, always changing, yet somehow in a mysterious way remains interesting.
Here we are again. It is New Years Eve. You may have already been planning on a resolution for the new year. Perhaps it is a goal of some sort. Maybe it is to make more money, or to lose weight, or exercise more. If you are like the majority of people, your goal will fail by springtime. There are many reasons for failure in our resolution and goals. The one I am focused on in this post, the big one, is a lack of self control and the loss of will power. There is a way to overcome this. Notice in the excerpt below, the words “one’s limits are unknown” and “one can be everlasting”
Accumulating virtues means there is nothing one cannot overcome
When there is nothing that one cannot overcome One’s limits are unknown
The limitations being unknown, one can possess sovereignty
With this mother principle of power, one can be everlasting
This is called deep roots and firm foundation
The Tao of longevity and lasting visionOne of my Tao mentors told me that I should work on my “self” first and the goal will be realized automatically in an almost anti-climatic way. What he was talking about was what the Tao Te Ching calls “The Sovereignty of Self”. This terms means to control your ego and its constant undermining through desire and distraction. If you are following this blog, then you perhaps you have an interest in the wisdom of the Tao and the Tao Te Ching. The Tao Te Ching may seem enigmatic or may seem to be paradoxical, yet the implementation is pretty pragmatic and straightforward in its application. Its wisdom can only be applied, and the results can only be experienced when you wake up become the sovereign over your life and destiny. Being a dependent of materialism as a life purpose creates a downward spiral of self destruction. Take a look at how every new year we make resolutions to fix some imbalance in our life. Somewhere during the Christmas holidays many of us have a moment of truth and admit that we need to address some issue and we promise ourselves to start afresh and do this new thing. Yet, we all know that most people fail at the promise and new resolution. By March you are back in your old ways. You are back spending too much, eating too much, neglecting some issue too much and soon resume the same old behavior hoping that somehow things will end up alright. This is a definition of ignorance. This is ego. Right here, right now, is your moment of truth. Take control of your life and your destiny. Wake up and be. Be the true self. Realize that you are a spiritual being, and that you control your choices and actions. Get serious with your meditation and mindfulness ability. Cultivate your ability to stay awake and become sovereign over ego and its insatiable appetite of desire. Throughout your day be mindful of your choices and reactions. This is what is meant by working on the self. By working on remaining the true self, you are able to manage the ego. This is the cultivating of sovereignty. By remaining sovereign, not giving in to ego, you make the choices that take you closer to your goal. When you are awake and in “self” control you can ask and determine…
“does this choice take me closer to or further from my true destiny, my goal”.
In the beginning, it is easier to understand than it is to do. The difficulty lies in how grounded in ego you are. Accepting and letting go is the action of the true self. Succumbing to ego and seeking distraction and sensation as means of coping is the path of failure. This cultivation takes lots of practice. It MUST become a way of life. The reward is huge. You successfully create the life of fulfillment, happiness, well being and health. My friends, the invitation to return to true living awaits you. If you are living in a prison cell with the door wide open, yet cannot escape, you are a captive of ego. Become the sovereign of your life. Find and practice meditation and mindfulness as if your life depends on it. A life of blessing and prosperity awaits you on the true path. Seek it and find it. Happy New Year
The Dixie Taoist Handbook
Strategy Number Seven:
True Goal Achievement
The Strategy: Work on your Self First; the Goal is secondary. Implement unattached action. Flow like water toward the destiny of your true path. Its Application: Goals are destinations. To arrive there successfully one must focus on the journey in each step. Applying the wisdom and virtue of Wu Wei, which is unattached action we are congruent with the flow the underlying reality. Without striving we arrive at our goal which is just one of many destination along our path.
Goal setting is the crafting of the strategy for your destiny. This chapter is a big deal, so read carefully. If you want to truly effect your destiny, you must focus your mind and be present. This is the practical ability to connect with the Tao (the source of everything) and to hold unity with the wisdom (the knowledge gained from life experience). When you have connected with the Tao, you are beyond distraction (that chaotic voice in the head that you wish you could shut up). In this state of consciousness you see where you have been, be in this now, and be guided by the spirit of the true self. Inspiration is that aspect of mystic virtue where Tao insight connects with a source that has infinite potential. Inspired is a most powerful spiritual virtue. From despair, inspiration can launch the spirit and instantly one is surrounded the ability to choose from infinite possibilities. And then a clear vision of your path of what can be fills the surface of your mind. Every fiber of your being vibrates with virtuous intention.
Be mindful of intention, so craft a worthy goal. Be patient, in meditation view your goal from the perspective of wisdom.
Tao Te Ching Chapter 37
The Tao is constant in non action
Yet there is nothing it does not do
If the sovereign can hold to this
All things shall transform themselves
Transformed yet wishing to achieve
I shall restrain them with the simplicity of the nameless
The simplicity of the nameless
They shall be without desire
The world shall steady itself
In modern culture we are taught to strive for achievement. In the western society many view striving as a good thing. Strictly defined by a popular online dictionary, one can read that striving is:
“to make great efforts to obtain or achieve something”
“to struggle or fight vigorously”
Let us look below the surface level of striving. Interestingly, one can see that the two definitions above are not necessarily describing the same thing. It can be one thing to make a “great effort” or to “obtain” and it can be argued that struggling and” fighting vigorously” is something else. Either way, the deeper insight is realize that great effort, struggle, and to fight are not the way of the Tao.
There is a better way to achieve the goal. The Tao offers something so extraordinary that it boggles the mind. See if you can wrap your mind around the concept of
NOT“trying” to do anything, yet accomplishing everything. What is being described here is “effortless achievement”. See Tao Te Ching Annotated And Explained by Derek Lin, Chapter 37).
This highly realized way of being is the authentic path of the true self. As the true self, we are sovereign. In this context, to be sovereign means to master the self. This is self control, self discipline and keeping the ego tamed. When one can follow “the way” (the Tao), we bring our reality into alignment with the destination which is our goal. We are working on the self in order to reach our intended destiny (goal). We all know that to reach a goal, requires self discipline and self control. Otherwise, we become distracted and fall off of the path. But that is not all. Going even deeper, we must determine our destiny (goals) as the authentic self. Authentic or true goals are those that are inspired when we are self aware and aligned in that balanced state of spirit and physical. In strategy four we apply the strategy of following mystic virtue as our guide. In this strategy, we use mystic virtue to determine and follow the path of the true self.
Is the determined destiny, the goal, an authentic one or is it just another sensation seeking desire of ego. Does the goal align with the three treasures? Is the goal a naturally evolution of the true path?
Here is the game changer. The struggle, fight, great effort are experienced by the ego. For alignment the Tao is to flow effortlessly with harmony. Do what you are supposed to do and being who you are supposed to be. Wu Wei is unattached action. Unattached is to be free of ego clinging and domination through ignorance. Wu Wei is action through mystic virtue. So we work on being sovereign, that is say, we rule over the ego.
As the true self on the true path, determine the direction and destiny that you know to be true. Then flow effortlessly in that direction by working on the self first. How do you know if your path is true? The answer is that if you are striving and knocking yourself out, burning up energy and feeling stress, that is not it. Are you tired, stressed out, sick, and anxious ?
On the other hand, are things happening in an almost miraculous way that seems to good to be true? Are the right people showing up at just the right time with the perfect elegant solutions? Are coincidences popping up all of the time that seem weird in a good way? Is intuition singing to you in harmony with life?
Self aware, our moment by moment choices will naturally come into alignment with our goals. In a synchronistic manner, and paying attention in that special way of mindfulness, all aspects of life will fall naturally into place. The people we meet, the coincidences, intuition, and all manners of what seems to be “good luck” begin to guide us in an effortless way. We just to pay attention and remain aligned with this reality. We must hold to the one (the true self) and resist the absorbing ego thinking which is the path of striving or pushing.
To be able to “hold to the one” requires that we work on ourselves. That is to say, we work on ourselves first and we will arrive at the goal we have brought into alignment with the Tao. Working ourselves is to work on being sovereign. This means we learn to become aware of our ego self and control its influence on our choices. Choices are the steps we take in each moment. If those choices, those steps are misguided by ego, we fall off the true path.
Mindful of our actions, we can ask ourselves,
“does this take us closer to or further from my goal”.
Am I keeping with the Tao?
Am I practicing mystic virtue and remaining humble, compassionate and frugal (the three treasures)?
Here is where it gets interesting. The ego, which is never patient wants to hurry and get there. The ego which is attached to outcome is our aspect of self that strives. Ego actions pushes and struggles to “get there” at any cost. This is not the effortless achievement of the Tao cultivator. This is not Wu Wei (unattached action).
Tao Te Ching Chapter 48
Pursue knowledge, daily gain
Pursue Tao, daily loss
Loss and more loss
Until one reaches unattached action
With unattached action there is nothing we cannot do.
Take the world by constantly applying noninterference
The one who interferes is not qualified to take the world
When achievement and goals rise in the mind, often one might think that we require to gain more knowledge. Immediately striving begins to form in the pursuit of more knowledge. Striving for more knowledge is ego introducing complexity where it need not be. Complexity only creates potential for distraction and the probability for things to sway us from our goal. Simplicity is the the way of the true path. There is a saying “keep it simple stupid”. A little harsh, yet we can appreciate the wisdom of keeping things simple and allowing. We we pursue the wisdom of the way of simplicity we lose the distracting aspect of ego desire.
The more loss of desire from ego, the less we strive. Striving is unnecessary effort, flow is effortless achievement. We practice cultivating our self control until we reach the point where our action, what we do, is unattached to outcome and aligned with the Tao (the way, the true path). This 4,000 year old wisdom is telling us that when we reach and hold this virtue of unattached action, “there is nothing we cannot do”.
“Take the world”, that is achieve our goals, without allowing the ego to disrupt the connection to spirit and the effortless flow along the true path. The strategy is to cultivate becoming and holding to the true self. To practice the virtues of the way (the Tao), to practice patience rather than striving and pushing. To allow and accept rather than interfere with the flow. Keep the march forward simple and use moderation to keep balance. Because of cause and effect (karma), striving and forceful achievement will cause friction and failure. When we plant the seeds to effortless achievement we reap the fruit of smooth and timely goal achievement. When one plants the seeds of striving and action attached to outcome, the result will more of the same. Striving and not hitting the true goal.
Tao Te Ching Chapter 77
The Tao of Heaven
Is like drawing a bow
Lower that which high
Raise that which is low
Reduce that which as excess
Add to that which has deficiencies…
The last part of goal setting for the Tao cultivator is the use of moderation in moving towards goal destination. Consider the goal itself. Is the goal just a product of the ego. Is it vain? What desire is it fulfilling. How does it measure with the the three treasures? Who benefits from this goal. Will others suffer as a result of achieving this goal.
The goal itself should not be too high, or too low. Adjust the objective as you cultivate your wisdom of the true path. Adjust your steps with moderation, seeking balance and harmony in each now, each moment. As you work on your “self” you cultivate your ability to follow the Tao, the true path.
Remember, true power is only held by sovereignty of self. Everything else is just illusion of ego. Wu Wei is holding to the one and using unattached action to move toward authentic destiny. This is the true path, this the way (the Tao).
Its Application: There is a profound wisdom in simplicity. To become truly free is to realize the desire creates need. Need creates striving. Striving creates suffering. By transcending ego, we can manage desire. When one can become free of neediness, they will find true happiness and fulfillment. In clarity, true self does not need desire fulfillment for true happiness, joy and well being. The true self finds the simple life full of abundance and harmony.
Chapter 15 Tenth verse: “genuine, like plain wood”
This simple phrase holds so much power and grace that it can be easily overlooked by those striving for enlightenment. Many of the mysteries of the Tao are right in front of us but cast away by ego. In this simple phrase Lao Tzu is passing on on what the ancients held to be a very important virtue; simplicity. Note that Lao Tzu, in verse one, refers to the masters of iniquity, implying that this wisdom was ancient in his time. By many estimates, it is believed that Lao tzu lived around 2500 years ago. And the some of the earliest teachings of the Tao were 2000 years before his time. So this wisdom has been practice by Tao cultivators for over 4000 years. For something so subtle to stay relevant for so long points to a great truth.
This truth is that when we move beyond the materialist view of ego, we can realize that it finding and following the true path is pretty simple. Simplicity is the path to enlightenment (clarity and understanding as the true self).
Unrestrained desire and neediness can be expensive. Americans are famous for living beyond our means, carrying loads of debt living paycheck to paycheck. One has to wonder why do we all need so much stuff? Why is bigger always better, and more is never enough? Is your purpose in life to work to pay for all the stuff? Life does not have to be so complicated. The simple life, one where we are not so needy awaits us on our true path.
Here is a moment of truth, I hope you can see it. The true path, the true self does not need stuff to experience true fulfillment, joy, happiness and well being.
Examine your sense of neediness. Now just imagine for just a second what it would be like if suddenly you did not actually need much. Imagine if you can, what it might feel like to be happy without all of the complicated effort for entertainment (distraction from life) and stuff (non essential sensation seeking sources). When one can remove these unessentials because of false need of ego, what remains is very simple.
Some examples of simple joy are:
bonding (being) with your child
observing and smelling a beautiful fragrant flower
beautiful sounds in nature or music
observing a sunset
observing a sunrise
watching birds in flight
feeling a breeze on your skin
tasting natural food
the sensation of a healthy body and its energy
the face of your lover
kind words from a friend
giving to someone you love
giving to someone you do not even know
When you read these, what is your reaction?
If you know you would be bored, this is ego and neediness.
If you have a vision or sensation of recognition of joy, this is your true self (spiritual self). What if everyday felt like Sunday? What if you loved what you did for your job?
Can you imagine loving your job so much that you can not imagine getting paid for doing it?
Can you imagine working where money was not the reason for spending your time there?
Fame or self which is dearer?
The self or wealth which is greater?
Gain or loss which is more powerful?
The excessive love must lead to great spending
Excessive hoarding must lead to heavy loss
Knowing contentment avoids disgrace
Knowing when to stop avoids danger
Thus one can endure indefinitely
This chapter was written over 2500 years ago, yet even back then people were striving for fame and wealth. This truth is just relevant today.
Excessive love, that neediness of “gotta have it” leads to great spending (credit card debt).
Excessive hoarding (having too much stuff) must lead to fear of loss (attachment, fear of loss, worry)
Knowing contentment (the simple life) avoids the disgrace (judged by other egos as a failure)
Knowing when to stop (enough is enough, moderation) avoids danger (bankruptcy, weight gain, jail)
Thus one can endure forever, which is a long happy life filled with plenty and well being.
Freedom is something we give away every time the ego crosses over the line of moderation to fulfill desire. Freedom means spending time doing what you love and what you are good at, and not stuck in the job you hate or listening to the boss who is a tyrant. Freedom creates possibility and options. Freedom means not having to work two jobs a day to pay for the stuff you thought would bring happiness. Freedom means being able to live a simple life with gratitude.
Freedom is an aspect of the true path. Are you free? Are you on the true path?
The truth is, as a spiritual being, having this physical experience, it is already extraordinary. Its only the ego which always needs more. It is ego that is never satisfied for long. It is always ego seeking validation and self esteem, and approval from others. It is ego… that is so needy. It is ego that seeks distraction, which is nothing more than tuning out of the extraordinary life because of ignorance.
As a Tao cultivator, we bring balance to our path. We still enjoy elements of sensation. We do become distracted with the beauty of nature. The wisdom here is balance. Balance between the physical and the spiritual is mystic virtue. Grounded in the spiritual we enjoy and are grateful, appreciate the simple yet powerful wonders of the physical realm.
As Tao cultivators, we find great freedom in the simple life. We are free from having to work so hard to satisfy these ego needs. Joy, abundance and fulfillment are simple and free. We only have to see them and appreciate them in clarity, free from the ego.
The strategy is to practice meditation to transcend the ego and pay attention to desire and neediness. Awake and aware one can avoid the stress of striving and live life to the fullest. This is the true path. This is the way.
The Strategy: Be honest with yourself. Take ownership of your life, where you are, and how you got there. To change your life from one of struggle into one of success requires and honest and accurate self assessment. Pay attention to the voice of ego.
Its Application: Being honest with anyone, whether it is yourself or others is only possible when we transcend the influence of the ego mind. Free from the opinion of others, practicing acceptance of how things really are, admitting fault and mistakes is the true self turning adversity into wisdom. The true self learns from experience. The ego sticks to ignorance.
Tao Te Ching: Chapter 71
To know that you do not know is the highest
To not know but think you now is flawed
Only when one realizes fault as fault
Can one be without fault
The sages are without fault
Because they recognize fault as fault
That is why they are without fault.
Self honesty opens the door to self exploration. If we cannot be honest about our ignorance and mistakes, we cannot become free of them. The ego being vain and insecure must pretend to be the highest and most adept, especially when it is not the case. When are able to free ourselves from the ego and return to the true self, we can admit that we don’t know. In that admission we open the door to wisdom and allow ourselves to see wisdom.
Ignorance is repeating the same behaviors and experiencing the same suffering while at the same time refusing to change or let go. Wisdom is the higher understanding of acceptance of not knowing yet seeking realization and being willing to change. If ignorance is a prison for the spirit, ego is the gatekeeper. When we admit our lack of adherence and understanding, we become humble. Humility is the very powerful virtue that releases us from the clinging to ignorance.
If we view fault as an unsavory or unsatisfactory feature, then through self honesty we can admit our faults. Humility is the power to admit faults so that we can overcome them. Think of some area of your behavior where you have fault and notice any resistance to accepting that in fact it is there. If you can successfully see and admit your fault, you are seeing life as the true self.
Being honest with ourselves also includes not being too hard on ourselves. The important aspect is see things as they really are. We are called to become at one with the underlying reality. If we are with fault we recognize this. If we are not at fault, we can recognize this as well. Self assessment must be grounded in truth.
In each moment, in each now, we have choices to make which shape our destiny. This means in each moment we are choosing either the path of ignorance or the path of harmony. We can create our own suffering or we can create our own fulfillment. It begins with admitting when you do not know and when we have fault. Knowing comes through wisdom, and harmony is realized when we accept when we do not know and when we have fault. This is done through self awareness and alignment with the Tao.
Not being honest is living in an illusion that is generated by the ego. Thus one can begin to understand that the true path cannot be found and maintained if we are blinded by illusion and non-truth. Ignorance and illusion are both perspectives of the ego. The true path can only be seen through eyes of honesty and virtue. It awaits us all and will magically rise before us when we enter into wisdom. This is the true path, the way.
Become Independent From the Good or Bad Opinion Of Others
The Strategy: Free yourself from the influence of what other people think of you. Its Application: Sovereignty of self is true power. This is especially true when we can become free from the opinion of others. The true self follows the moderate path of wisdom and virtue. The ego is either striving for acceptance and the good opinion from others or it is striving to avoid the bad opinion from others. Either way, this striving influences the decisions and choices that create one’s destiny. The Tao cultivator works on being free from this ego trait and through virtue (such as the three treasures) will find and keep harmony and balance in a successful life.
Non Virtuous Trait: Dependence on the good opinion of others
Tao Te Ching: Chapter 13
Favor and Disgrace make one fearful The greatest misfortune is the self What does “favor and disgrace make one fearful” mean ? Favor is high, disgrace is low Having it makes one fearful Losing it makes one fearful This is “favor and disgrace makes one fearful”
What does “the greatest misfortune is the the self” mean? The reason I have great misfortune Is that I have the self If I have the self What misfortune do I have
So one who values the self as the world Can be given the world One who loves the self as the world Can be entrusted with the world</blockquote>
So many of us frivolously use up a lot of energy on the worry of what others are going to think about us. The description “frivolously” is used because this such a self indulgence. This Self of course meaning the ego. When we allow our self esteem to rest on the foundation of what others think we set ourselves up for a lose/lose result. Either way we become dependent on an illusion that cannot be sustained. Those of us whose happiness is placed on what others think will always be disappointed. The ego mind can be become trapped between the seeking the good opinion of others or trying desperately to avoid the bad opinion of others.
The ego is very sensitive to criticism. So that any negative opinion becomes a kind of false truth that can be used to manipulate someone who is living a life dominated by the ego self. For the ego mind, self worth is based on what others think. This will be experienced as “misfortune” and suffering. If we have based our ego self esteem on the good opinion of others, we worry about losing it. If we have not yet gained the good opinion of others, we strive to obtain it. Striving leads to misdirection of destiny and suffering.
Striving is distracted action for ego results. It is a waste of energy thus it is a waste of our most precious resource. Wu Wei is the virtue to follow. Wu Wei is unattached action or action without striving. Dependence upon the good or bad opinion of others sets us up for striving. The Tao cultivator upholds dignity by holding to constancy. Constancy of the true self is the maintaining the balance between spiritual and physical. By following virtue and wisdom, the true self avoids the traps of the ego self and choices are altruistic. The Tao cultivators is upheld in the community because of wisdom and dignity and it happens effortlessly.
Yet we do not have cast out our ego self. It is a part of who we are. As Tao cultivators we seek balance which raises harmony. When we are self aware, that is when we are aware of the ego feelings of seeking that good or bad opinion we can step back, let this striving go and be actualized as the higher self. When we are mindful of ego and observe a state of worry over what the opinion of others might be, we can let go and return to the independence of the true self. In balance we can be aware of those opinion yet not be dominated by them. It can be useful to have a good opinion from others yet, we cannot allow ego place a prerequisite for happiness, fulfillment and self worth on them.
As Tao cultivators we stay connected to others, we are aware of those opinions for what they are worth but not controlled by them. As leaders in our community, we are aware of what other feel and think about us but we would not foreclose what we know to be moral and right. There is a balance to be found in regulating the ego mind and the value we place on what others think. Returning to spirit, we free ourselves of dependency on the good or bad opinion of others.
The Strategy: Pay attention to the mouth and the words that come out it. It can be a source of inspiration or a device for hurting others.
Its Application. Mindful of ego, we must be alert for what it has to say. Managing ego through self awareness we must refrain from hurting others by what we say.
Those who talk do not know
Those who know do not talk
Close the mouth
Shut the doors
Blunt the sharpness
Unravel the knots
Dim the glare
Mix the dust
This is called Mystic Wonder
Ego has the distinctive failing that covers up its lack of understanding by pretending to know. It pretends to know by talking a lot. The self realized person (the true self) has confidence and patience and has no need to prove anything. By paying attention we can discern what the ego is covering up by how it works so hard at denial. In this passage Lao Tzu wisely points out how those ego minds that do not know, will spout off with words to cover up the lack of understanding. When the ego feels inadequate and experiences an embarrassing lack of accomplishment, it will attempt to create the illusion of knowing by by talking. The Tao cultivator knows that actions have merit and words can often be empty. Promises are made and easily broken.
Those of us who have had to work hard at cultivating the true path, know first hand how much trouble our mouths can get us into. The unwise person is lost in ego and is so distracted that words come out the mouth before they realized what they sound like and how much they can hurt others. The path of virtue is to be diligent in our mindfulness practice so that we manage and control the ego’s need to say stupid and hurtful things. We must be alert and pay attention to the rising emotions and feelings before the mouth is engaged.
Lao Tzu calls to us to be mindful of sharp words that hurt or breaks the harmony. We are to say what we men with straight talk and not be deliberately confusing in our interactions. The true self, uses humility to dial back the ego’s need to sound brilliant so that it can be admired and look good. The wise Tao cultivator is grounded in virtue and selflessness, speaking and acting with simplicity. When it comes to words and speaking, more is not better.
As a spiritual being in pursuit of the true path, it is imperative that we pay attention to how we interact with those around us. The path is one of harmony and selflessness. Thus as Tao cultivators, we are mindful of what we say and what we mean. When we realize that ego is about to react and say something that will break the harmony, we step back and choose virtue. When we are called to speak, we may take a moment to pause and be present. Using the three treasures as a guide is a good start. When interacting with others, one can consider compassion, conservation and humility before the words form on the tongue. In this way we stay on the true path and maintain the harmony of mystic oneness.
The Strategy: To practice accepting life as it happens. Stop resisting reality. Be humble, patient and seek wisdom for deliberate action.
Its Application. In each moment we can become aware of how we are reacting to the things that happen to us in life. Opposite of reaction is acceptance. Accepting things as they are we no longer waste energy on that which just is. We can align with the wisdom of the Tao and overcome obstacles with much less effort.
Yield and remain whole
Bend and remain straight
Be low and become filled
Be worn out and become renewed
Have Little and receive
Have much and be confused
Therefore the sages hold to the one as an example for the world
Without flaunting themselves, and so are seen clearly
Without presuming themselves, and so are distinguished
Without praising themselves, and so have merit
Without boasting about themselves, and so are lasting.
Because they do not content, the world cannot contend with them
What the ancients called “the one who yields and remains whole”
Were they speaking empty words?
Sincerely becoming whole, and returning to oneself.
Yielding is surrendering to acceptance. Resistance is opposing the reality of life in a given moment. Yielding is surrendering the egoic stance and allowing courage of the true self to remain firm. Ignorance is resisting the underlying reality and taking a set of details personally.
So here you are facing some obstacle in your life. The unrealistic ego expects everything to go its way. In that instant, in that now, when you are faced with the obstacle or problem, you have a choice. You can allow the ego to react which is not really a choice or you as the true self you can choose an action. You can choose to accept and yield or you can choose to resist and move against the flow of the underlying reality. Action is a product of a the self-aware choice. In another chapter, we will discuss Wu Wei which is the action of not striving. Action does not necessarily have to be a “doing” thing, your action may be to hold off and seek wisdom. Ego is enslaved to ignorance and reaction, and the True Self takes a measured action according to wisdom and virtue. The outcome of this reacting or striving can be very self-destructive.
Ignorant reaction is one where ego is making the decisions. The decisions are usually based on an emotional state that can often not be based in reality. Fear about what may happen, worry about some distant point in the future, Ego usually has a distorted view of the facts and therefore choices made within this perspective can be flawed. Since cause and effect (karma) is always present, your choice will become part of the new reality.
The alternative is to be present as the true self, be unified with the Tao and to choose from the perspective of wisdom. In that first instant, you can transcend the ego reaction and discern what may be unfolding. In this orthogonal perspective you may realize a whole host of possible choices or alternatives. By choosing to accept and yield where possible, we can remain whole and not lose virtue to ignorance. By not resisting we can bend and remain straight instead of breaking. When we spend a lot of energy resisting the flow of life as it is, we become tired, yet when we yield and remain soft, we conserve energy and renew.
Chapter 71 (accept when you do not know, accept when you are at fault)
To know that you do not know is the highest
To not know but think that you know is flawed
Only when one recognized fault as a fault
Can one be without fault
The Sages are without fault
Because they recognize the fault as a fault
That is why they are without fault.
This wisdom is practical and should be easy to implement. Yet if you are grounded in ego, accepting that you do not know or that you are at fault is almost impossible. Not accepting these realities is to just continue on with the illusion of self-deception. Only when we accept that we do not know can we begin to seek the understanding that leads to knowing. Only when we realize and admit that we are at fault can we begin to correct the fault. Otherwise we just continue the path of ignorance, which is the reality of not knowing and being at fault. This is a huge waste of time and energy (Qi) and only results in the false destiny. The Tao cultivator stays on the true path by the acceptance of knowing that they do not know and accepting fault as fault. Only then can they resume the true path.
Other areas of acceptance that can help us return to the true path are:
accepting that we may never know the great mysteries
accepting that we have not hit the mark (failure)
accepting that we have setbacks (a lapse back into ego)
accepting that the details of life are constantly changing, nothing remains the same, that there is impermanence to all things
accepting that we are not right (correct and at fault)
accepting that we are attached to something.
accepting the present moment as it is
By not being overtaken by distraction and ignorance, we can “hold to the one”. We can hold to that authentic path of the true self. In this way, by not making the mistakes of ignorance, the Tao cultivator is recognized by their wisdom. Without flaunting, their example endures and their virtue is seen clearly. By not getting caught up in self promotion (ego) they are distinguished and are given high merit. By remaining virtuous and in alignment with divinity, they last.
Reacting to other people, circumstances and situations with ignorance is a form of resistance known as contention. When we react to someone in a negative way we are contending. Contention is to struggle with, to grapple with, and to oppose. This is resistance which creates friction. Friction uses up a lot of energy resulting in depletion. So when we contend, we may as well expect the to also to meet contention. This is a stagnation in ignorance where there is no winner. In relationships there are always going to be opposing views. Yet, the Tao cultivator can accept that there is an opposing view without agreeing with and still without contention.
Yielding for the Tao Cultivator does not mean that we give up what we know to be the path to wisdom. The Tao cultivator remains above the reaction of resistance and contention and flows like water around the obstacle. By remaining in wisdom, the Tao cultivator seeks the myriad of possible solutions by remaining free of taking things personally and holding to the one. If we use the metaphor of life being like a series of cards to be played (a card game), inevitably, we will receive a hand that is not productive. The ego will freak out, the true self is patient and will transcend emotion and consider the best strategy to continue forward.
Cause and effect are seeds that get planted in each moment we face a fork in the road of life. This is how our destiny is formed. The Tao cultivator, is ever-present of holding to the one, their destiny, they do not let the ego control the process. Mindfulness is the paying attention to this process and holding to the one. The Tao cultivator follows the wisdom of the Tao as if their life depends on it. Because what is life but our spiritual self experiencing reality in the physical realm and each moment holds the seeds of the future.
If yielding and acceptance seem like a weakness, this is the ego view. The moment one can realize, even for an instant, the freedom, the power to let go and accept and yield, virtue has risen. This is the power of the Tao.
The Strategy: Avoid self destruction through burnout and excess and maintain harmony between spiritual and physical energy. It’s Application: We must ask our “self”, why do we choose self destruction? We are a Life form with the potential for self awareness. We absolutely must not interfere with the life force [Qi] that holds our form together. We must nurture and support our life form, our body, so that we can continue to experience life in the physical realm.
Those who hold an abundance of virtue
Are similar to newborn infants
Poisonous insects do not sting them
Wild beasts do not claw them
Birds of prey do not attack them
Their bones are weak, tendons are soft
But their grasp is firm
They do not know of sexual union but can manifest arousal
Due to the optimum of essence
They can cry the whole day and yet not be hoarse
Due to the optimum of harmony Knowing harmony is said to be constancy Knowing constancy is said to be clarity
Excess vitality is said to be inauspicious Mind overusing energy is said to be aggressive Things become strong and then grow old This is called contrary to the Tao That which is contrary to the Tao will soon perish
In many of the various traditions, we have heard stories and legends of ancients who lived very long lives. To do this in a time before moderation medicine they must have had a secret that kept them going for such extraordinary lifetimes. In more recent times there are some stories of individuals who lived far longer than the average person. One such person who live for 250 years was a Chinese man named Li Cheng Yuen, that is somewhat documented to have been born in 1678 and died in 1928. It has been reported that he was an adept in Qigong and an Herbalist. Successful Qigong practitioners were also followers of the The Tao. The secret, which is really no secret is found in the chapter above. One might bring special attention and focus on the section above in italics.
“Due to the optimum of essence” is stating the bodies ability to repair and sustain energy, health and well being through the nurturing of the Qigong practice of regulating the essence. To regulate essence requires that we create and sustain the conditions for our Qi to flow unencumbered. To keep things simple just understand we must moderate our mental and physical activities. Moderation is the best starting point. Moderation of the body begins with the mind and its state of harmony or stress.
“Mind overusing energy is said to be aggressive” was apparent in Lao Tzu’s day just as it is in our modern culture. One can realize just how tired they can become from doing nothing other than too much mental activity. Often this mental activity is from negative emotions and thinking such as fear, worry, anger, frustration and anxiety. One does not have to do anything physical to become completely depleted and drained of energy to reach burnout.
Important Insight. One may think that burnout is just something we get over and move on from. Yet the deeper wisdom in this insight is realized when one gains a deeper understanding of the role of Qi, the spiritual energy, or life force energy as it often called in the West.
Think about how all living organisms come into form. Not only is there an organizing and emergent property of nature that constructs form for consciousness to experience life, but this same force, this same energy sustains, repairs and holds all of these life forms together. In Qigong, it is understood that essence is the catalyst through which the energy works to create and sustain the life form. When a being, any being, overuses the energy, the environment to which the life form energy breaks down. The energy is blocked and interfered with. As the flow of Qi is impeded, atrophy begins to go to work. Think of atrophy as nature’s deconstruction process where it takes elements and building blocks of nature and redistributes them to other place where they are needed. We we experience burnout, we have set up the conditions for atrophy and open the door for our body’s deconstruction. The form, the body, our body, struggles to keep the form whole and functioning. Too much interference with this process leads to disease and death through atrophy.
It is really quite simple. We are to create harmony within the mind and body to help nature hold us together. If we interfere with the process, we breakdown, become sick and die. There are plenty of “natural causes” that humans succumb to that just happen and are not preventable. Yet there are many many causes of disease and death that are caused through our interference from stress and anxiety. Thus, we must all create balance and harmony in our life form, our body to support nature’s life force energy to keep us well. If we do this, and we are lucky, we can live to be very old and experience happiness and well being. It is a matter of choice.
Choice is made by the true self which is our spiritual self fully realized and following the path of wisdom. If you have read everything in this chapter up to this point, you are now faced with a moment of truth Will you allow ego to interfere with spirit and nature and the inherent energy? Or will you wake up (meditation) and pay attention (mindfulness) to what you are doing and why you are doing it?. It is really no complicated secret. Sovereignty of self is also known as self control, and self discipline,
If you are beginning to realize this insight and see the wisdom, you may ask “why would anyone destroy themselves”? Hopefully you will understand the ignorance that ego is guided by and begin the process of waking up and following virtue. In each moment we have choices that guide us to either well being and longevity or burnout, disease and death. We must pay attention to this as if our very lives depend upon it. Self Control and self discipline is a matter of controlling the ego desire part of the mind. This can only be done by transcending the ego and being. Being self aware is the true self. After all…. we are “human” beings, and we have the potential to be self aware.
Most of the time we are lost to distraction. Many of us seek distraction. We seek it because we are coping with a life that has run astray and we desire happiness. Only the ego believes that happiness and joy is found in the material world. Only the true self, the spiritual connection to source understand the really meaning of joy and happiness.
The path is always right here and right now. It is always before you in plain sight. We only have to take the blinders of ego off and return to “being”. It (happiness, joy and well being) does not lie in the past, nor does it lie in the future. It is only here, now, in this present moment. We only have to wake up and choose.
The Strategy: Use the virtues of compassion, conservation and humility to guide you along the true path. Mindful of your choices, allow the three treasures to guide you to wisdom.
Its Application: As a Tao cultivator, you are mindful of thoughts, feelings, emotions and desires as they rise in each moment. The application of practicing the virtues of the three treasures is a good place to begin. Compassion, Conservation and Humility to become the gateway to other virtues. With conviction and practice this three virtues become become the paradigm of mystic virtue.
If one were to only read and practice a single chapter in the Tao Te Ching, this one could transform your life. If all people would practice the three treasures our society would be transformed into something new and wonderful. The three virtues in this chapter would be enough to change your life and change the world. These three could bring about heaven on earth. The three treasures are compassion, conservation and humility.
I have three treasures
I hold to them and protect them
The first is called compassion
The second is call conservation
The third is called not daring to be ahead in the world (humility)
Compassionate, thus able to have courage
Conserving thus able to reach widely
Not daring to be ahead in the world
Thus able to assume leadership
Now if one has courage but discards compassion
Reaches widely but discards conservation
Goes ahead but discards being behind
If one fights with compassion, then victory
With defense, then security
Heaven shall save them
And with compassion guard them
conservation in both tangible and intangible 59 moderation 55 -7
Treasure number one: Compassion.
Who ever you are, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, at some moment in your life you will need true courage. Lao Tzu tells us to be “compassionate thus able to have courage”. Yet we are even warned that courage without compassion will end badly. The strategy of this virtue means that must draw courage from love. Love is beyond virtue and is at the highest level. Love is the foundation for serving others. Love is selflessness at its finest and putting aside fear so that we can move forward in leadership. Moving forward to satisfy fear for the sake of fear, is still satisfying the ego. Love empowers us to do what we must so that those we lead can benefit. Love is serving the needs of others first.
This is the path of the true self. This is the true path of virtue where compassion for fellow beings gives us direction and helps us to choose wisely. The strategy is to consider a choice that has the most compassion for all involved putting others above our own ego.
Treasure number two: Conservation
In governing people and serving heaving
There is nothing conservation
Only with conservation is it called submitting early
Submitting early is called emphasis on accumulating virtues
Accumulating virtues means there is nothing one cannot overcome
When there is nothing one cannot overcome
One’s limits are unknown
The limitation being unknown, one can possess sovereignty
With this mother principle of power, one can be everlasting
Thus is called deep roots and firm foundations
The Tao of longevity and lasting visions
Conservation for the Tao cultivator is giving priority to time management, managing energy and regulating the mind and spirit. “ Submitting early” is surrendering, sooner rather than later, to the flow of life and accepting the underlying reality. Wasting time, energy, and creating stress because we over react to reality of life is to become resistant to the flow. This pushing or striving unnecessarily is a function of ego and takes us closer to suffering and self destruction. There is great wisdom in learning to not react to life and to become like water and flow around obstacles. We can free ourselves from ego and unify with spirit to find virtuous solutions to our problems.
As we cultivate our ability to stay above reaction, we cultivate our connection to spirit and unity with source. This is practicing mystic virtue. Assisted with mystic virtue, there is nothing we cannot endure or overcome. By conserving spirit and energy, we build the foundation for longevity. This longevity applies to both the tangible and the intangible. It can create a long healthy life with joy and well being, just as it can create and sustain financial abundance. This sovereignty over ego so that one can implement the virtue of conservation, is the foundation for a long path. Build your strategy for life around the foundation of conservation and you will go far.
Treasure number three: Humility.
The large is like the lowest river
The converging point of the world
The receptive female of the world
The female always overcomes the male with serenity
Using serenity as the lower position
Thus if the large country is lower than the small country
Then it can take the small country
If the small country is lower than the large country
Then it can be taken the large country
Thus one uses the lower position to take
The other uses the lower position to be taken
The country only wishes to gather and protect people
The small country only wishes to join and serve people
So that both obtain what they wish
The larger one should assume the lower position.
Humility is the hardest virtue to practice for most people. That is because most people are still under the power of the ego. When you read the term above, “lower position”, perhaps you may notice a bit of ego reaction. Vanity and self esteem are so controlled by ego that “taking the lower position” or humility, may seem impossible. Perhaps as you read this you may feel that there is just no way that you can practice being humble. If you are honest and able to realize this, warning sirens and red flashing lights are going off. Warning warning, ego is in the house !
As a strategy, humility is the great ego destroyer. When one honestly takes the lower position one is becoming at one with the true self, the spiritual self. Humility is so very powerful, that as a strategy, as a living virtue, it will level the playing field. Humility is the freeing of one’s self from all of those artificial things that limit our true power. This is sovereignty over self. Ego vanity, self esteem, self judging, arrogance, boasting, greediness, and a foundation of neediness limit us and chain us to that which has no spiritual merit. We cannot move forward on the true path when we cling to these limiting illusions. One cannot rise above fear and have courage when we are attached to the material. One cannot stop taking words so personally and experiencing hurt when we are entangled with ego reaction. We cannot practice other virtuous strategies when we are bound by the ego. When we are no longer attached to stuff, we are free from the fear of losing “it”. “It” may be pride, self esteem, false sense of security and many other illusions of ego.
When we are humble we are free of ego judging and are able to implement the power of acceptance. When we can accept life as it happens to be without ego reaction, we are free to choose wisdom over ignorance. Practice humility as you interact with others along the path and watch how they respond to you when they realize they are not being judged. That they can be themselves. Notice also those whom you like or love most, and at the core you will find that it may be because they do not judge you and accept you as you are. You make powerful long lasting friendship and be loved deeply because of the virtue of humility. Being humble frees us to do what has to be done with worrying over what people think, what they will approve of what they might do. If you can see the true power in this, you will realize the the power in its simplicity. We we are caught up in ego, we are extremely vulnerable to manipulation. Ego is blind to wisdom, and being grounded in ignorance is easly lead around. Humility frees the Tao cultivator from this mental emotional trap. Accepting and assuming the lower position, we root ourselves in wisdom of experience. If our cup is full ignorance, we cannot recieve the blessings of wisdom. We must empty our “self” and be open to underlying reality of any given situation.
In Chapter 43, Lao Tzu tells us that we must use softness to overcome the hard. In this way the softness strength of humility will overcome the hard aggression of ego. Just like the softness of water will wear down the mountain of rock over time, so will humility overcome short lived egoic stance. Ego burns its energy quickly and cannot sustain itself. Humility is soft and conserves energy. Humility benefits us with longevity. Humility creates the opportunity for harmony. Humility is the practice of mystic virtue.
Think of the those spiritual sages who have come and gone in history, and you will realize that centuries later, they are still loved because of their foundation of humility. If you can learn and practice just this one virtue, you will change your life and the lives those around you.
Together, the virtues of the three treasure are so powerful that if each person were to just practice them for one hour a day, we would soon be living on a new earth. It would be heaven on earth. We are encouraged to find our true sovereignty and cultivate three treasures. This is the strategy for true power. This is the sovereignty of the true path.
The Strategy: Follow the true path of Mystic Virtue. Mystic virtue opens the door to the true path. The mysterious virtue of source will flow freely to and through you and all whom you encounter will experience goodness.
Its Application. Transcend the ego, choose wisdom and virtue in each moment. Cultivate your ability to become and remain oriented as the true self. As the true self follow your true path with mystic virtue as your guide.
Chapter 10, Tao Te Ching
In holding the soul and embracing the oneness
Can one be steadfast, without straying?
In concentrating the energy and reaching relaxation
Can one be like an infant?
In cleaning away the worldly view
Can one be without imperfections?
In loving the people and ruling the nation
Can one be without manipulation
In the heavenly gate’s opening and closing
Can one hold to the feminine principle?
In understanding clearly all directions
Can one be without intellectuality?
Bearing it, rearing it
Bearing without possession
Achieving without arrogance
Raising without domination
This is called the Mystic Virtue
In Strategy number one, we find that we must become self aware through the practice of meditation. In strategy number two, we learn that we must continue the self awareness by paying attention in each and every moment. In strategy number three, we realize that we have the power of choice as we create our life moment by moment. In strategy number four, we can choose the wisdom of practicing mystic virtue.
Virtue can be defined as moral excellence and goodness. Spirit may be defined as consciousness and self awareness. Thus when we are self aware as a spiritual being and choosing virtue to create our reality, moment by moment, we are practicing mystic virtue.
This is a game changer of huge potential. At once you are undergoing an self check and can quickly discern which self is in this moment. As you read these words recommending that you follow virtue, notice how you react and feel about that. The part of you that realizes the truth and accepts this is your true self. The part of you that resists following virtue and rejects the seeking of moral excellence is the ego. So in this now, is a moment of truth. Which path do you take? One opens the door to the true path, the other continues toward self destruction. Virtue is the path of spirit and ego is the path of materialism and form.
The path of virtue is not an absolute. It is the balance tween to two realms we are connected to . As a spiritual being having a physical experience we are connected to both the spiritual and the physical. Balance is the key to mystic virtue. The strategy is to learn to use moderation and find balance between form and spirit. This is a path where the true self, controls the ego.
This path does not mean that we do not enjoy pleasures of the earthly realm. Sensation is a wonderful gift. As the true self, one is awake of the sensation in a given moment as experiences the wonder fully aware. When we concentrate on the experience we it becomes so much more richer. Distracted we move the through the sensation yet not fully having the experience. The true self fully enjoys the experience but does not become attached to the sensation. The true self can enjoy and let go. The ego becomes attached, dependent and is already looking forward to doing again as soon as possible.
Most importantly, the true self realizes that the sensation experience may be joyful but realizes it is not the source of happiness. The ego thinks the sensational experience is happiness and this creates desire. The true self feels gratitude and lets go. The Ego becomes attached and develops a false need.
So in any given moment, we have choices. As the true self we can choose virtue, or if we are distracted in ego, we choose sensation seeking and more distraction. The true self will choose to serve others, the ego will seek to serve “me”.
Mindful of feelings, the true self will manage ego and seek wisdom. In this way the Tao cultivator follows the true path. Imprisoned by feelings and emotions, the ego does not give a rip about virtue, it only wants to address its unfulfilled desire. The true self can moderate and hold to balance of lifes pleasures. The ego is a bottomless pit of unlimited desire. For the ego, enough is never enough and more is better.
The power in strategy number four provides the map for navigating the minefield of ego traps that will cause life to blow up on us. Look deep inside your “self” and see if you can notice the truth that we should be good and follow a moral path. One can begin to see where ego desire and distraction blinds us and leads us into trouble.
If you can be honest with your “self” for just an instant, you must admit that being virtuous is what we have always been called to do. Practicing mystic virtue does not guarantee you a problem free life. But it will help you from making problems worse by making bad choices. You have heard the saying, “out of the frying pan and into the fire”. Life will throw some crazy stuff at us sometimes, that is guaranteed. It is how we react to those crazy circumstances that cause you to jump from frying pan to the fire.
Wisdom is very close at hand. You have a long history of life experience where you should have learned what to do and not do. By being free of ego, you can choose the virtue of patience and then the wisdom. The Tao Te Ching is the benefit of over 4,000 years of wisdom that has been handed down to us.
Tao produces them
Virtue raises them
Things shape them
Forces perfect them
Therefore all things respect the Tao and value virtue
The respect for Tao, the value of virtue
Not due to command but to constant nature
Thus Tao produces them
Virtue raises them
Grows them, educates them
Perfects them, matures them
Nurtures them, protects them
Produces but does not possess
Acts but does not flaunt
Nurtures but does not dominate
This is called Mystic Virtue
Look around in history and in life and consider some of the great spiritual sages that have their place in our memories. Notice the virtues that they shared with us. Also notice they never sought greatness, they became highly regarded anyway.
Life challenges every single one of in some unique way. When we emulate mystic virtue we are opening the door and discovering our true path. This spiritual virtue is in most ways beyond our understanding, yet we can appreciate life and its many mysteries without becoming lost to distraction. We can actually choose our path and most importantly we can choose our true path. Mystic virtue is the door to the true path. “mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders” (Chapter 1 Tao Te Ching).
Strategy: Developing strategies one and two, meditation and mindfulness empower one to pay attention in a non judgmental and balanced way. Now that you are paying attention, realize that your choices are creating your life. Reactions of ego are not true choices, they are just reactions. True choice is realized only by the true self. In this way you are creating your life along the true path. The strategy here is the base your choice of experience, wisdom, and virtue.
Application. Learn meditation, practice mindfulness, and realize the power of choice. Choose each step with wisdom. Choose moderation and find balance. Balance the physical with the spiritual by following wisdom and virtue over ego and desire. Virtues are overlapping and support each other. Patience harmonizes with Wu Wei (unattached action, non striving). Wu Wei harmonize non attachment, Non attachment supports acceptance. Acceptance opens the door for compassion. Compassion opens the door to forgiveness. It goes on and on, each virtue connected in the tapestry of mystic virtue. Mystic virtue is the mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders.
Tao Te Ching
Those who understand others are intelligent
Those who understand themselves are enlightened
Those who overcome others have strength
Those who overcome themselves are powerful
Those who know contentment are wealthy
Those who proceed vigorously have willpower
Those who do not lose their base endure
Those who die but do not perish have longevity
In this context, let us define choice as the ability to select from a number of possibilities. The intention in this strategy and its application is to help you realize the power of choice. We do not have to make uninformed reactive choices. Reaction of ego is the illusion of choice that is experienced is guided by desire and non virtuous emotions and thinking.
If you have not yet read the section and chapters regarding ego, it might be useful to do so now. The nature of ego is to be impatient and self serving. More importantly, its nature is to react to what it perceives. Moment by moment we perceived aspect of life as it unfolds. In any given moment, something will arise that that will prompt the ego to define and react. The definition and corresponding reactions fall into a wide spectrum of responses. None of these responses will be developed through patience or any virtue or wisdom. Ego desire will prompt the reaction of need and greed. Ego fear will react will anger, rage, and aggression. Ego pain will prompt the need for coping. In each case the ego reacts to what it perceives. We experience this every time someone or something pushes one of our buttons and we react. This auto response is so automatic, that choice is not available and reaction is automatic. Patience is a virtue of choice, we must transcend the absorption of ego to choose it. This is self control and self discipline. To choose the self must be aware of the act of choosing. This requires a moment of self awareness and being present which is not something ego can do.
Only by following strategy one and two, can you implement strategy 3. Only by becoming self aware (meditation) and paying attention to your mind (mindfulness) can you use wisdom and virtue to guide your choices. These choices create your life circumstances. The physical realm is always changing, and with it the circumstances you are or may be (distraction) perceiving. So life and reality just happen and you cannot control this. However you can control how if and how you react or respond to life circumstances.
The first choice is accepting life as it is. This is just the underlying reality of how things are. If you are self aware and paying attention you can remain detached from reaction before you become lost in it. In that moment, in that now when you perceive some ‘thing’ happening, you can choose what action if any, you might take. Remember, choice is the selecting from a number of possibilities.
Think about playing a game of chance. Maybe it is a card game, maybe it is a board game. One rolls the dice, spins a wheel and chance presents the result. In that moment, one can pay attention to the reactive mind. If the ego perceives that the results are not in accordance with desire and the need to win, the reaction begins to rise. Emotion such as resentment, frustration, anger will begin to bubble up. As the reaction matures is effects decision making and choice. Your next move, will effect the probability of future success. Interestingly, on a deeper level we know we should ignore emotion and frustration and use logic and strategy to choose the next move, the next strategy. Yet, for many of us, we react with reactive emotion. If one is playing cards and secrecy is part of the strategy, that success is lot when we slam the cards down in frustration.
This reaction is always relevant and present in sports. In these physical games, we blend physical form with spirit and logic in a competative attempt to average a higher performance. Yet notice how those who can self regulate and use self control over reactive emotion sometimes pull victory out of a certain loss. When competitors are so closely matched in physical abilities and training, the only difference is often one’s ability to manage emotion and raise the spirit (in case this means self morale). When one overcomes the certainty of defeat to win against the odds, one has “snatched the victory fro the jaws of defeat”. When one is a sure win but “chokes”, it can be said that one “snatches the defeat out of the jaws of victory”. In life strategy, it is no different. Self destruction is a behavior we do to ourselves; unnecessarily. Possibility and probably are many times maluable. They are shaped and guided by consciousness. When consciousness is absorbed by the lower ego mind, reaction becomes the guiding principle.
Possibility and probability are part of self aware universe. We can be unified with source and seek to realize the many perspectives. The many perspectives can inspire many possibilities. In the infinite now, which above the illusion of time, you can choose.
By transcending the ego view of reality we unify with the Tao. As spiritual beings we are called to unify with source. Here is a useful video clip to show a tangible application of how this works:
Watching this video, I am reminded of the first verse in Chapter 10
In holding the soul and embracing oneness
Can one be steadfast, without straying?
In concentrating the energy and reaching relaxation
Can one be like an infant?
Notice how Juno becomes present and unifies with source. This seemingly miraculous ability is available to us all. Rather than remain absorbed in despair and loss, we can “tune in” that is realize our true self and become the miracle that we ALL are.
But wait a minute you say. This is just a movie. Ok, here is a video of the same thing in real life.
Patience is a virtue that gives great power to choice. Often it is the first of many choices in choosing the next step in your true path. Being patient provides the infinite space for consideration of the many perspectives. You can assume a multi-perspective view to gain insight and understanding of the underlying reality of a given situation.
Then you can consider what virtue and what wisdom can you choose from to take the next step. In this context, we are considering the ancient wisdom of the Tao as communicated by Lao Tzu’s “Tao Te Ching”.
Yet you must realize that for the wisdom of the Tao to be available, you must be paying attention to mind-state (mindfulness – strategy 2). So in that moment, before choice is made, you can consider, “of all the choices I have before me, which and what do I choose?” Being self aware, being patient, what is the virtue that applies here? What is the wisdom that applies.? What have I learned from my past experience? What did I learn from past mistakes, that I do not want to repeat?”
Patience is a good start, Wu Wei is another virtue to practice before choosing. See the chapter on Wu Wei. Wu Wei is action without striving. So the consideration is … what action can be taken that is not one of strive, contention and conflict?
Choosing is the unifying with virtue and wisdom as the true self. The true self experiences life along the true path. In each now, experience is happening. If we are self aware, we are aware of the experience. Experiencing is the purpose of the physical life. We are spiritual beings experiencing life in the physical realm. When we become distracted we are disconnected from the true path. When we are disconnected from the spiritual realm then all that we can experience is the physical realm. When we are distracted, ego is in charge and the limited physical realm is all that we know. This is the path that is often experienced through suffering.
Yet suffering has an alternative perspective. If in suffering, we finally feel enough pain that we seek connection to source, the suffering experience becomes wisdom. When we have suffered enough, we seek our true self and the true path. Realizing (unity with underlying reality), and understanding who we really are, a spiritual being in this physical experience, we begin to understand our “self”. The true self along the true path. This is enlightenment. This the Tao.